The number one shortcut to enjoying life more

rainbow in Huntsville, AL

Photo by Doug Roth

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

On the way home from work a few nights ago, there was an incredible rainbow. I wasn’t expecting one–where I was, it was sunny and cloudy, but no rain. But there it was, huge and very intense, arching across the sky. Normally when I see a rainbow, I stop what I’m doing and watch it until it fades, but this time, I had an appointment to get to, so I saved my gazing for the stoplights. It lasted almost half an hour! When I arrived for my appointment, I told everyone about it. It was still very bright, and I was delighted to see people drop what they were doing and go out to enjoy the rainbow for a few minutes.

We often let ourselves get so rushed, we miss moments like this. I remember one time I was complaining to some friends about a new breed of roses that’s become popular in my town–very pretty, but hardly any scent. I said, “What’s with the roses around here? Every time I stop to smell them, they don’t smell like anything!” There was silence for a moment, then someone looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Wait a minute… you actually, literally, stop and smell roses?” I gave her the same “are you nuts?” look and said, “You don’t?”

One of the most crucial practices in the quest for a satisfying life is seeking out beauty and making the time to savor it. Mystics tell us to live in and savor every moment, but that’s a pretty tall order! I get that the present is all we have: the past is gone, the future may never come, yeah, yeah, yeah… so of course the way to savor life is to savor the present moment. But really, every single moment? What about the moments when we’re stuck waiting in line at the courthouse? Balancing the checkbook? Sending emails? Taking out the garbage? I accept that a proper mystic can find joy in these moments and worse. But for the rest of us, trying to jump directly to that stage seems unrealistic to me, although I like it as a goal. Meanwhile, savoring a few moments per day is a good start.

I got a great tip for remembering to do this from Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out (an awesome book, by the way). She recommends taking time each day to list five things you’re grateful for. Something beautiful, something funny, a kindness, a feeling of connection, a pleasurable sensation, a small convenience, an incident that goes better than expected–all good candidates for the list.

If you make this a habit, perhaps by doing it right before bed each night, a funny thing happens: it quickly gets easier. Your mind starts noting these things throughout the day in preparation for your evening list. As you note the things that please you, you become more aware of them as they happen, you realize how many there are (probably way more than you realized), and you get to enjoy them again in review when you make your list for the day.

I started doing this during a pretty rough time in my life, and at first it took effort to come up with five things to be grateful for. But within a matter of days, I had more like fifteen things per day. (I only required five of myself, but if I had more, I gave myself free rein to list them.) I was still stressed and easily upset, not what you’d call happy or satisfied yet, but I was much happier than before. This habit is one of the most important and probably the quickest for liking your life better. Try it for a week and see what you think!

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4 Responses to The number one shortcut to enjoying life more

  1. I totally agree with you about enjoying every moment of life, and I’m one of these people who enjoy the moments when we’re stuck waiting in line at the courthouse, balancing the checkbook, sending emails or taking out the garbage. When you’re conscious of the present moment, you feel a peace of mind systematically.

    My favorite part is : “I remember one time I was complaining to some friends about a new breed of roses that’s become popular in my town–very pretty, but hardly any scent. I said, “What’s with the roses around here? Every time I stop to smell them, they don’t smell like anything!” There was silence for a moment, then someone looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Wait a minute… you actually, literally, stop and smell roses?” I gave her the same “are you nuts?” look and said, “You don’t?””

    • Cara says:

      Ooh, good for you for being able to enjoy the mundane moments and having systematic peace of mind! I’m definitely not there yet, but working on it!

  2. Pingback: The #2 Shortcut to Enjoying Life | 17000 Days

  3. Pingback: How unhappiness works–and how to beat it | 17000 Days

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